Retail sales report shows winners and losers on P.E.I.

After posting record sales in June, likely due to pent-up demand, P.E.I. retailers slipped back in July, according to the latest report from Statistics Canada.

Sales bottomed out in April, down more than 20 per cent, but hit a record mark of $218 million in June, seasonally adjusted. In July sales fell back to $202 million, 3.7 per cent below last July.

“You still have skittish customers in some respects. They’re not coming out like they used to,” said Jim Cormier, Atlantic director of the Retail Council of Canada.

In the months since the pandemic started, retail has dealt not only with plummeting sales in many sectors, but also increased costs to deal with public health requirements, said Cormier.

Some sectors up for the year

While sales are down significantly overall, the detailed picture is complex, showing both winners and losers, depending on what the stores are selling.

UPEI economist George Jia points out the winning and losing categories can be mostly summed up by a single factor, is the merchandise related to staying at home or not.

“Most industries are already recovered to similar levels compared to a year ago in July,” said Jia. Two exceptions are gasoline and clothing.

It could be a while before some sectors fully recover, says George Jia. (George Jia)

“Both of these categories recovered to only about 80 per cent of the previous year’s level in July, and they are likely to remain below their normal value because the needs for socializing and transportation remain low.”

For the year overall, sales are up in:

  • Electronics and appliances.
  • Building and gardening.
  • Grocery.
  • Health and personal care.

These categories have seen declines:

  • Motor vehicles and parts.
  • Furniture.
  • Gasoline.
  • Clothing.

It is worth noting, however, that furniture saw strong growth in July, up 18 per cent over July of 2019.

Unlike furniture, the grocery category was moving in a downward direction after performing strongly throughout the spring.

July was the first month where grocery recorded sales lower than 2019. July and August are typically the biggest months of the year for that sector on P.E.I., as cottagers and seasonal residents move in.

Grocery stores are feeling the effects of 2020’s catastrophic tourist season, said Jia, and perhaps some impact from all the gardens people planted in the spring.

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